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Hanoi Customs Confiscates One Ton of Pangolin Scales, Ivory From Nigeria

In addition to 805 kilograms of pangolin scales, customs officials recovered 193 kilograms of elephant ivory.

Authorities discovered the contraband contained in a dozen or so boxes when the intended recipients refused to collect the shipment that originated from two companies in Nigeria. Seemingly no arrests have been made. According to experts, one pangolin has between 0.4 and seven kilograms of scales, meaning this shipment could represent between 2,000 and 115 animals. 

Photo via AFP.

This seizure, one of the largest in the nation's history, coincides with numerous similar cases throughout the region in recent months. Last year, a Malaysian businessman was caught attempting to smuggle eight tons of pangolin scales valued at US$24 million within his country, while just last week in China, four suspects were apprehended trying to import over seven tons of pangolin scales.

While the pangolin trade has been illegal in Vietnam since 1992, weak law enforcement has resulted in the country functioning as an important stop in trade routes linking Africa with China where pangolin meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used in traditional medicines.

Comprised of keratin, the same material as human hair and fingernails, there is no evidence to support claims that consuming them has any health benefits. Moreover, traditional Chinese medicine books list many alternative ingredients with the same purported effects. While attempts have been made to raise them in captivity, such efforts are too expensive and time-consuming to make it more attractive than poaching.

As these cases illustrate, efforts to curb the supply and demand for the world's most trafficked mammal are embarrassingly ineffective. It's estimated that every year at least 20 tons of pangolin scales are smuggled and the wild population has been falling 94% since the 1960s.

[Top photo via WWF]

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